Most of my high school friends were obsessed with college-prep, extra-curricular activities, and jobs. Except for one friend. Like a lion, he could sniff out a wounded schoolmate from a thousand yards. And like a lamb, he sat with them in their grief.
One day we heard a lecture on handling pain. Much of the class was indifferent, but this one friend listened with fixed attention. My preppy class asked how to deal with a poor score on a college-entry exam; he asked how to cheer a suicidal sibling.
My friend suffered from cerebral palsy. Everyday his infirmity slapped him in the face, and every night throbbing muscles threatened his sleep. He stumbled awkwardly as he walked, his dialog was often incomprehensible, and his body was wracked with pain. (All-the-while his mind remained sharp; he knew what he suffered.)
Classmates overlooked him for team sports; mid-day waiters insulted him by asking me what “he” wanted for lunch; and the difficulty of his spastic speech meant few people invited him for an evening dinner.
Yet he always sought out others in in their sorrow. Oswald Chambers once said,
Suffering burns up a lot of shallowness in a person.
We Hate Suffering
We all know a few of our foibles: we are easily offended when corrected, we talk more than we listen, we barely know how to spell “joy” (much less live it), and we are consumed with self-doubts, “If only I had said ‘X’ instead of ‘Y.’”
We wrestle with our anxiety, condescension, and insensitivity. And they pin us to the mat. We chase self-improvement, sure, but mostly to avoid the humiliation of looking stupid, uncaring, and high-maintenance. Failures drive us to avoid sorrow at any cost.
We want healing from suffering; but Scripture says we get healing only through suffering.
God uses sorrows as spiritual chemotherapy, poisoning cancerous cells so that healthy cells can thrive. “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity” (Job 36:15).
We hate passages like that.
To Live a Dying Life
Jesus was a man of sorrows. To follow Jesus is a walk of sorrows. Through suffering, we meet God. The way of Jesus is the road to Calvary, planting daily our crosses; as little by little the cancerous cells perish, and as little by little his life in us takes root. In our sorrows, we begin to discover true joy.
Each new sunrise screams of brutalities, ethnic cleansing, sexual carnage, heartbreaking divorce, rejection, and loneliness.
What kind of God do we want? A God indifferent to suffering, exempt and untouched? Or a God so moved with compassion at the slaughter of his people that he enters creation to absorb into himself the anguish of a heartbroken world?
The way of Jesus is to live a dying life.
God’s Voice in Our Affliction
Experiences of loneliness and pain leave us feeling barren and empty, joyless and wasted; but it is precisely in times of wounded-ness that God speaks to us:
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;Edward Shillito
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
Rather than flee agonies, let’s seek his voice in the heartbreaks of our sorrows:
- If we are rejected, hear him whisper that he was discarded so we can be cherished;
- In our loneliness, hear his pledge that he was forgotten so we will be treasured;
- In the aches of our withering bodies, hear his shout that we are nearly home.
The same sun that hardens clay also softens wax. Which will we be? Will the sufferings of life turn us callous and harsh, or will we let the blood-soaked lashes of Jesus speak to our wounds?
Like my high school friend, let us stumble awkwardly into a world of anguish, anointing the griefs of others with the balm of a wounded God.
Let us live a dying life.
Human beings are designed for hearing God, and without it we suffer. Please consider reading my book, Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere. I believe it will help you hear his voice.
I’ve included most everything I know about how to hear God. Topics include:
- Learning to recognize his voice
- Hearing God in his silence
- How to Brainstorm with God
- Hearing God in Scripture
- Hearing God for guidance
Eugene Peterson said:
I picked it up out of curiosity and I couldn’t put it down.
This is excellent, truth, and a much needed message in Christianity today. It deeply touched my spirit. Thanks so much for writing this so eloquently!!
Sam, there is so much in your reflection that is honest, soul-aiding “where the rubber meets the road” useful, that I just don’t know what to say but “Thank you”.
Love the post! Especially the quote from Chambers: “Suffering burns up a lot of shallowness in a person.” (And man, do I need some burning some days. ?)
Beliefs of the Heart
That’s one of my favorite of his quotes too. Alas, though, that is only part of the quote. The full quote is:
“Sorrow burns up a great amount of shallowness, but it does not always make a man better.”
The question is, will we let this suffering melt our hearts like wax, or will we let it harden our hearts like clay.
I can’t explain how the truth of your words spoke to my heart as I read your piece. The visual of your broken but loving friend is so powerful and life giving. I am going through a difficult time, but I know that God is healing me through it all. Thank you for articulating God’s love for us.
Beliefs of the Heart
Yes, I think that is the correct spiritual approach: “I know God is healing me through it all.”
The same sun that hardens clay also softens wax. The contrite heart is soft. What a great visual picture of our response to suffering!
I remember such a young man in my high school class he had an older brother also enrolled who protects him and explained his situation. Many did not care to hear about his medical condition and preferred to make fun of his “Spastic Mannerisms”. How much we are afraid of that we do not understand and how much we are able to wound by our responses which serve to mask our own pain and suffering? Good piece, as always, Sam.
Beliefs of the Heart
I enjoy all of your posts, Sam – always thoughtful, and make me ponder life. This one hit at a deeper level, took me aback and forced questions about my walk. A solid body shot. Well done!